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Sunday Classics Matinee: Star Wars Episode II - Attack of the Clones

by Robb Reel

The saga continues, as does the experiment.

Chris, a housemate at The Reel Estate, had never seen any of the Star Wars movies.  The last Movie Night, we showed him The Phantom Menace.  He didn't run off screaming like a Death Star cleaning droid.  This week, we turn to the next chapter.

It is about 10 years later.  The siege of Naboo that we thought had ended has fueled a Separatist movement throughout the galaxy.  A mysterious, new hand is behind the Trade Federation's fueling of discontent.  Meanwhile, Senator Palpatine has become the new Supreme Chancellor.

Amidala's career has advanced as well.  After her two terms as Queen of Naboo expired, she succeeded Palpatine as a senator.  Natalie Portman and her character are both far more womanly by now.  She is both things -- beautiful and a bad ass -- that make it easy to see how Leia Organa would be her daughter.  Her peacemaking with the Gungans has led to equality such that Jar Jar Binks is now a representative, effectively her second in intergalactic politics.

A now bearded Ewan McGregor has taken Obi-wan Kenobi from wild-eyed padawan to Jedi Master.  Though he is clearly wiser, his is not yet the sage that Sir Alec Guinness was/will be as his older analog.  He is patient and measured, yet he proves shortsighted about too many important things.

In Obi-wan's charge is Anakin Skywalker, as per the elder's promise to his own dying master.  A decade older, a new [and better] actor, Hayden Christensen, was needed for the filming that began almost as soon as the last movie hit theaters.  We already know -- well, everyone except Chris -- who Anakin will eventually be.  Attack of the Clones shows the catalytic event for the turn.

For the second film in a row, George Lucas introduces a great villain.  Jango Fett will, unfortunately, suffer the same quick character arc as his predecessor, Darth Maul.  His appearance, and that of his son, provide a great jumping off point for a tangent film or series that we may yet see with the Disney acquisition of LucasFilm and its related properties.

Lucas actually does it twice in this movie.  We meet Count Dooku, played by British horror legend Sir Christopher Lee.  If one checks out Lee's resume beyond his IMDB filmography, it is easy to see how Lee could supply the necessary gravitas to the menacing character and still remain almost regal.  Again, this character could take his own cinematic tangent.

We get to see some great things in this movie.  For all who ever imagined Jules from Pulp Fiction as a Jedi Master, Samuel L. Jackson and his purple lightsaber give just that.  We [finally] see why Yoda is the most vaunted of Jedi.  We see how the path to the Dark Side starts in corners as shadows and shades of grey.  Virtually all of us had heard of the Clone Wars; now we get to see the clones.

Unfortunately, we also see maybe the worst George Lucas has to offer.  Sections of Attack of the Clones turn into a "chick flick" so poorly crafted that you'd swear it was written by Nicholas Sparks or Stephanie Meyer.  Christensen chews more scenery than Godzilla.  Despite her radiance, Portman practically refuses to use her talents, as if she's acting with "one arm behind her back" opposite her love interest.

All tolled, I find this to be the worst of the entire saga, and maybe the entire Lucas pantheon.  There are some stunning visuals and complicated ones at that.  When it premiered, I saw it twice within 12 hours -- once at the midnight opening and again at 10:00 a.m. the next morning -- and still didn't catch everything.  Clearly, the great dialogue of Lawrence Kasdan, the pacing of Richard Marquand and the wit of Irvin Kershner are all sorely missed though.  Make no mistake, Lucas is a genius, but even geniuses need some help sometimes.  Still, we'll see how Housemate Chris does with the next installment.

Still, the Force will be with us, always.